NRCM Statement by Advocacy Director Pete Didisheim
“Governor LePage today vetoed a bill that would protect one of Maine’s most important natural resources, our 6,000 lakes and ponds that are cherished by Maine people and visitors who come to Maine from around the world. This veto is an insult to the thousands of Maine people who devote so much of their time working to protect the water quality of Maine’s lakes, and to every Mainer who wants to pass clean lakes on to future generations.
“This bill received overwhelming support from the Maine House and Senate and we urge lawmakers to vote to override the governor’s veto.
LD 1744 received a unanimous vote in the Senate (35-0) and was approved in three roll call votes in the House (135-0, 138-0, and 119-24).
“Maine’s lakes generate at least $3.5 billion in economic activity annually and help sustain 52,000 jobs. Now is not a time to take the water quality in Maine’s lakes for granted. A recent report shows that the water quality in Maine’s lakes is deteriorating, with some lakes close to a ‘tipping point’ that could result in rapid loss of water quality.
“Protecting clean lakes is not a partisan issue. Everyone in Maine values lakes that contribute to our economy, recreational opportunities, wildlife habitat, and quality of life.
“The governor focused most of his veto letter on the bill’s restriction on the application of fertilizers within 25 feet of a lake—the same level of protection in Vermont and New Hampshire. Surely, Maine’s lakes deserve at least as much protection as do the lakes in our neighboring states.
“Fertilizer should not be applied within 25 feet of Maine lakes. That’s the conclusion of a New England-wide set of best management practices for lawns near lakes that was created in 2008, with input from multiple Maine researchers and lake protection professionals. Unlike our neighboring states, Maine has done nothing to adopt that recommendation into law. That is why we need the Legislature to override the governor’s misguided veto of this bill to protect Maine’s lakes.”
LD 1744 updates DEP’s lake protection responsibilities for the first time since 1997, with important improvements in the areas of research; water quality and habitat protection; and creating partnerships with lake associations, towns, citizen volunteers, and others to help sustain lake water quality. These partnerships save Maine taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
The bill also establishes a restriction on applying fertilizers too close to Maine lakes. LD 1744 as reported out of Committee included a restriction on applying fertilizer within 50 feet of a lake. Rep. Jeff McCabe offered an amendment 124-11, to reduce the setback to 25 feet, with essentially the exact same language as was adopted in Vermont and New Hampshire within the past three years. The amendment was offered as a compromise to increase the chance of the bill not being vetoed, and to make the bill consistent with language used in two neighboring New England states.
In 2008, New England water quality experts drafted a report on best management practices for fertilizers and lawn care based on water quality considerations. Four water quality experts, including a representative of the Maine DEP, contributed to that report—which strongly recommends establishment of a buffer of at least 20 feet for the application of fertilizers near any water body. Here is a link to the report, and a key excerpt: New England Regional Nitrogen and Phosphorous Fertilizer Management Practice Recommendations for Lawns Based on Water Quality Considerations.
See pages 8 and 9, with setback language for both nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) fertilizers:
“If fertilizer is recommended, leave a buffer strip of unfertilized grasses or other vegetation around water bodies… Fertilizing too close to water bodies increases the chance of N/P movement into the water. An unfertilized buffer strip of grasses or other vegetation will increase the uptake and attenuation any N/P lost from the lawn in runoff… Unless the buffer width is stipulated by local or state regulations (some states have 50 to 100 foot setbacks), leave at least a 20-foot set back from the water.” (emphasis added)
Governor LePage’s letter raises concerns about the cost of enforcing this provision. Neither Vermont nor New Hampshire allocated any funding for enforcement, yet lake associations and lake protection advocates in both states believe the 25 foot fertilizer restriction is helping reduce fertilizer pollution to their lakes. Informing property owners about the setback requirement is part of the broad education efforts in these states to help property owners reduce their impacts on Maine lakes.
Many lakes in Maine currently suffer significant algae blooms in the summer months due to excess nutrient pollution, and a University of Maine study released last year concluded that the water quality in Maine lakes has declined over the past 15 years.